The Sunday before I started my Ph.D. program, I went up for prayer after church. I was nervous about this big step and wanted the comfort of having someone stand with me in prayer and bring my first-day jitters before the Lord.
When I told the guy on the prayer team my request, he asked what I was studying. Without hesitation, I told him: “Psychology. Cognitive Science.” He nodded and began to pray. He prayed a very different prayer than I thought I had asked for: His prayer was for my pursuit of psychology and science to not drag me away from my faith, for me to not be brainwashed by false doctrines and theories. We said, “Amen,” and I thanked him and walked away.
He meant well, and I appreciated his concern and prayer for protection, but I was disheartened. It was not the first time (or the last time) that a mature, well-meaning believer has reacted to my career choice with hesitation or outright concern. I’ll admit, my experience in academia is that it is not a warm, fuzzy place for Christians. Academia appears to be a place where faith is not welcome. But it certainly does not have to be a place where faith dies. In fact, I’m calling on Christians to pursue the sciences.
Here are some of the reasons:
Science and Faith are Not at Odds
I think a lot of Christians are concerned about science. Many of us have been given this message (often by the media, the scientific community or well-meaning believers) that science and faith must be somehow at odds. I’ve got to tell you: it isn’t true.
Sure, some scientists and believers don’t agree on everything (i.e., the Creation/Evolution debate). And sometimes, they ask different questions altogether. But God made science. He made this amazing, beautiful world to interact with. And He gave us intelligence and curiosity to use when exploring it.
Studying Science Can Deepen Your Relationship With God
Essentially, science is the study of everything God created. We can look at this amazing planet and be awed by all God has made: from tiny ants to huge mountains to an endless starry sky.
When we study science, this awe is magnified. The ants become more than bugs: they’re complex organisms made up of organ systems, made up of organs, made up of tissues, made up of cells. And the mountains? They’re made of elements and impacted by all kinds of environmental changes: humidity, erosion, heat, physical stress, tectonic shifts. And that starry sky? Planets and stars and galaxies and comets.
Studying science makes our world bigger. And when we realize how big it is, it’s impossible to not be more awed by our creator-God, who understands every cell and atom and element and has arranged them perfectly in accordance with His plans.
Pursuing Science Will Lead You to Worship
My work is in studying the human brain. What can be more mysterious? My experiments involve non-invasively reading people’s brain electricity in response to different stimuli (using electroencephalography). When I find an answer to a research question, I find myself in worship.
Discovering something about creation is to know the creator better. It’s like God is telling me a secret, letting me in on something He hid away just for me to find. God and I do science together.
It Doesn’t Have to be Confrontational
This is the other half of the coin. If Christians are a bit hesitant to pursue science, it’s only half because we’re worried about how our involvement in the field may influence our faith. It’s often just as much because we’re concerned about being rejected or because we don’t want to be constantly arguing with professors.
Christians are often taught to defend aspects of their faith in the science classroom (for instance, creation). And some science teachers or professors come across as confrontational regarding the issue of faith, even without a student bringing it up first. Some Christians would rather avoid a science major than have to take a course (or a section of a course) studying evolution.
But studying and learning something doesn’t mean you need to believe it. And it is OK to listen to a professor teaching on a topic that contradicts your faith without confronting her about it if you so choose.
Science Needs Christians
Science needs all kinds of people. The task of science is seeking truth, and truth-seeking requires we put aside some of our assumptions. Ironically, this is one of the biggest reasons some see Christians as unfit to pursue science, but in reality, people of all faiths (or no faith) all bring assumptions. We simply can’t get rid of them.
But one way to combat our assumptions is to approach problems from a variety of angles. Collaborating with others who do not share our assumptions (whether directly on a project or more generally within the field) places checks on our assumptions. In addition, having a variety of points of view approaching a problem offers additional opportunities for problem-solving and new breakthroughs.
Science needs your insight, your unique background, your God-given giftings, your prayers as you collect and analyze data.
How better to solve the questions and problems we face than to combine scientific inquiry with the ability to petition the creator of the universe? Christians who pursue the sciences are in the unique position to do just this. Science can be one more tool we use to serve God and to serve our world for His glory.